The U.S. and France on Tuesday pushed for a tough United Nations resolution to ensure Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime turns over its chemical weapons stockpile, but Assad’s ally Russia demanded the West take the threat of force off the table if Damascus fails to meet its promises. The diplomatic split threatened a deal that would avert American strikes against Syria.
Assad’s government on Tuesday promised to cooperate fully with the Russian plan, which calls for Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control, for eventual destruction.
Kerry: Syria should do more than declare weapons
Secretary of State John Kerry says Syria must do more than just declare its chemical weapons stockpiles and sign the international treaty that bans them if it wants a Russian-led effort to avert U.S. military strikes to work.
Just minutes after Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime announced Tuesday that it would take those steps, Kerry said he hoped that it would “go further” in the interests of peace. He said the Syrian government must “live up to what they said just said they would do” and then cooperate with Russia “to work out a formula by which those weapons could be transferred to international control and destroyed.”
He said the regime should also enter a genuine dialogue with the opposition. Kerry’s comments came during an online Google+ hangout.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV that Syria would place its chemical weapons locations in the hands of representatives of Russia, "other countries" and the United Nations. He promised that his country would also declare the chemical arsenal it long denied having, stop producing such weapons and sign conventions against them.
Wary that Damascus is only seeking to avoid U.S. military action, Washington and France said they seek strong U.N. language to enforce the Russian plan. France said it would put forward a draft resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, making it enforceable with military action.
That met swift opposition from Russia.
President Vladimir Putin said the plan can only work if "the American side and those who support the U.S.A, in this sense, reject the use of force."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his French counterpart Laurent Fabius that it is unacceptable for the resolution to cite Chapter 7, his ministry said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in turn, said the U.S. rejects a Russian suggestion that the U.N. endorsement come in the form of a non-binding statement from the Security Council president.
The U.S. has to have a full resolution — one that entails "consequences if games are played and somebody tries to undermine this," he said.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council canceled plans for closed consultations on a Syria resolution Tuesday.
The developments threatened what had been growing momentum toward a plan that would allow the Obama administration to back away from military action. Domestic support for a strike is uncertain in the United States, even as President Barack Obama seeks Congress’ backing for action — and there has been little international appetite to join forces against Assad.
The U.S. and its allies have insisted Assad must be punished for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that the Obama administration, France and others blame on the regime.
Damascus denies its forces were behind the attack. The U.S. has said more than 1,400 Syrians died; even conservative estimates from international organizations put the toll at several hundred.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the resolution must have teeth to ensure the Russian plan is not "used as a diversion.
French authorities "don’t want to fall into a trap" that could allow Assad’s regime to skirt accountability or buy time, he said. Syria’s credibility in accepting the plan would be determined "by accepting these precise conditions."
He said the French draft resolution would demand Syria open its chemical weapons program to inspection, place it under international control, and ultimately dismantle it. A violation of that commitment, he said, would carry "very serious consequences." The resolution would condemn the attack and bring those responsible to justice, he said.
Obama threw his support behind the resolution. British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would join France and the U.S. in putting forward the proposal.
Russia, in turn, was working with Damascus on a detailed plan of action to be presented, Lavrov said. Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
"We agreed to the Russian initiative as it should thwart the U.S. aggression against our country," Syria’s al-Moallem said.
Obama, who was to deliver a national address on Syria later Tuesday, cautiously welcomed the proposal. But he said the U.S. is still prepared to go ahead with strikes if it falls through. He reached back into history — and the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union — to underline the need for enforcement.
"The key is, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that we don’t just trust, but we also verify," Obama told CBS. "The importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed."Next Page >
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